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Co-Chairman Smith Responds to Turkish Government Move to Block Twitter

Friday, March 21, 2014

WASHINGTON - Responding to the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s action in blocking access to Twitter in Turkey, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, released the following statement:

“I urge the Prime Minister to answer his critics directly rather than try to silence them. This would show respect for the Turkish people and for his responsibilities as an elected official. In recent years the Turkish government has shown a troubling propensity to target journalists as well as Web sites and social media, as has been amply documented by the United States government and independent human rights monitors. Blocking Twitter violates Turkey’s commitments in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to free expression and freedom of the media.”

According to reports, Prime Minister Erdogan used court orders to block Twitter in Turkey on Thursday, March 21. The Prime Minister himself has a Twitter account, however, as does the President, who tweeted his hope that the ban would be short-lived. The U.S. Department of State reports comprehensively on human rights in Turkey in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Co-Chairman Smith is also the Chairman of the House panel that oversees human rights worldwide and the author of the Global Online Freedom Act, H.R. 491, human rights legislation that would promote Internet freedom around the world.

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  • Twitter This

    The most interesting question President Obama fielded in China came over the Internet, via the U.S. Embassy, from a Chinese citizen who asked, "Do you know of the firewall? Should we be able to use Twitter freely?" In response, Mr. Obama, speaking at a town hall in Shanghai, did not directly address China's massive Internet censorship operation -- "the firewall" -- and he confessed that he does not use Twitter. But he said, "I'm a big supporter of not restricting Internet use, Internet access, other information technologies like Twitter." No doubt that's correct. And, just as likely, Mr. Obama is not aware that his State Department not only is doing next to nothing to support Internet freedom in countries such as China, but that it also has been slow-walking congressional initiatives to do so. For two years Congress has appropriated funds to support groups that are developing ways to circumvent the Chinese firewall and those erected in Iran, Burma, Cuba and other repressive countries. The most prominent of the groups, the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, says it has the capacity to host 1.5 million users daily. Its technology works: Shiyu Zhou, the deputy director of the consortium, testified to the U.S. Helsinki Commission last month that at the height of opposition protests on June 20, more than 1 million Iranians used the system. He said that with $30 million of additional funding, capacity could be increased to 50 million users a day, making it "prohibitively expensive for any repressive government to counter our efforts." A bipartisan coalition that includes Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has been trying to channel the necessary funding. A total of $20 million has been included in the past two State Department budgets, and $30 million more is pending in the Senate's version of the 2010 budget. But State hasn't passed the money on to the firewall-busters. Instead it gave the lion's share of its 2008 appropriation to a group that specializes in conducting media studies and training journalists, and it has failed to distribute the 2009 funds, even though the fiscal year ended nearly three weeks ago. The department says it is increasing the staff dedicated to working on Internet freedom issues and that it is funding some "implementing partners" that it won't identify. Still, no money is going to the one organization with a proven record of overcoming firewalls. The group's advocates suspect that that's because the Global Internet Freedom Consortium is identified with China's banned Falun Gong movement -- and State is fearful of Beijing's reaction to any U.S. support for it. The Obama administration has already done plenty to appease the Chinese regime. The least it can do is act on the president's own words about the value of free information -- and help give Chinese their chance to Twitter.

  • Why Tyrants Like Twitter

    When hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets this summer to protest election results, headlines around the world anointed it the "Twitter Revolution." Iranians by the thousands Tweeted, Facebooked, blogged, video streamed and posted on scores of Web sites to share the events with the rest of the world, thwarting government attempts to censor coverage of the post-election violence. Twitter in particular appeared so powerful that the U.S. State Department even asked the micro-blogging service to delay a scheduled network upgrade to ensure Tweeting Iranians wouldn't lose access. But while Twitter and its new media cousins have given millions of people around the world the unprecedented ability to speak out and quickly organize against repressive governments, some experts caution that social media doesn't only benefit the social activists. "I'm not sure we understand the implications of building public spheres," said Evgeny Morozov, Yahoo! Fellow at Georgetown University's E.A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. New Media Empowers All Forces In a U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing on new media in authoritarian regimes, Morozov last week warned that new media "will power all political forces, not just the forces we like." Despite efforts to encourage the growth of pro-democratic groups online, he said research into the blogospheres in Egypt, Palestine and Russia suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and groups of Russian nationalists and fascists are among the most active users of blogs and social media. "Blind support for promoting blogging and social networking may have a lot of very unpleasant unexpected consequences," Morozov said. While it's true that governments may have lost some power to Internet-based modes of communication that empower many voices, he said authoritarian regimes have benefited from those same communication channels in other ways. "The Internet has made it much more effective and cheaper to spread propaganda," Morozov told ABCNews.com. New Media Can Give Appearance of Openness In Russia, the government befriends new media entrepreneurs who spin online conversation in the government's favor. The Chinese, Morozov said, have created a "50 cent party" composed of thousands of people across the country who get paid 50 cents for each comment they leave online. For some authoritarian governments, new media can be used to give the appearance of openness and legitimacy. In a piece written earlier this year for the human rights blog openDemocracy.org, Babak Rahimi, a professor of Iranian and Islamic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, wrote about the "politics of Facebook" in Iran. Part of the reason could be to encourage younger people to vote, thereby boosting electoral participation and signaling state legitimacy, Rahimi wrote. Another reason could be to identify dissenters. "By unblocking Facebook and creating a false sense of open and fair elections, the intelligence services are able to monitor the activities of dissidents who may feel more comfortable to express their views on Facebook," he wrote. But the primary reason, Rahimi continued, was so authorities could show off their strength as a legitimate power. "By conceding small amounts of liberty, the regime also hopes to gain approval for its 'progressive' nature," he said. Morozov said that new media has also made it easier for repressive regimes to identify dissenters. Instead of employing hundreds of people to read published material, rulers can automate the process with computers programmed to search for keywords. The Beijing-based TRS Information Technology, a search technology and text mining company, helps China control public opinion by using keywords to search for subversive content, the Financial Times reported earlier this year. A marketing manager for the company told the Financial Times that it was starting to sell services that allowed monitors to track comments and forecast public opinion. He also said police use the technology to focus attention on certain groups of people, such as university student forums. 'Cat and Mouse Thing' for Activists to Stay Ahead Though there are risks to opening up public spaces online, experts also say that with ongoing awareness of developments in new technology, progress is possible. During last week's Helsinki Commission hearing, Nathan Freitas, an adjunct professor with the Interactive Telecom Program at New York University and developer of technology for protests, said there are numerous stories of Chinese, Tibetan and other activists being monitored via Skype, Yahoo!, e-mail and other online tools. Still, he said that when activists protested for Tibetan independence during the 2008 Olympic games, China's efforts to block coverage didn't stop the protestors from broadcasting their activities. Digital video cameras, handheld computers and live streaming camera phones helped their protests succeed, Freitas said. "It's a cat and mouse thing, staying one step ahead," he told ABCNews.com. Activists need to stay on top of a government's technical capabilities as well as its overall priorities. And the best use of new media for activists changes from country to country. For example, given China's ambitious business aspirations, it can't block as much of the Internet as countries with more humble goals, Freitas said. But a government's grand plans can also provide exploitable opportunities. Although China may crack down on Skype, e-mail and other communication channels, because it wants to encourage small businesses, Freitas said devices like BlackBerries work well in China. "The irony of the world is that everyone wants a piece of the Internet commerce cookie? These countries are promoting the people getting computer science degrees, so you're seeing the rapid rise of intelligence and capabilities within the countries themselves," he said. "If you can find the loopholes that tie in technology with commerce, it's kind of a sweet spot."

  • Twitter Against Tyrants: New Media in Authoritarian Regimes

    Held after a year in which Twitter and Facebook catalyzed protest movements in Iran and Moldova and authoritarian regimes around the world unleashed new tools of Internet control, this briefing considered the ways in which new media and Internet communication technologies affect the balance of power between human rights activists and authoritarian governments. Panelists who spoke at this briefing focused on new media’s role in protests and elections, the ways in which it empowers civil society activists, and the darker side: how dictators use new technology to control and repress their citizens. The response of authoritarian regimes to the significant opportunities for advancing freedom through new media was addressed.  

  • Scars of 1974 Invasion Abound as Leaders Seek to Reunite Cyprus

    By Ronald J. McNamara, Policy Advisor Cyprus’ unique location at the cultural crossroads of the eastern Mediterranean and important trade routes between Europe and the Middle East and beyond has shaped the island nation’s rich history. I recently returned to Cyprus to assess developments as the 35th commemoration of the Turkish invasion approaches and a significant portion of the country remains under occupation. Virtually every conversation during my visit, whether with officials or private citizens, touched on some aspect of the ongoing occupation of the country, the legacy of the 1974 invasion, or the prospects for a resolution of “the Cyprus issue.” In a country with slightly less than a million people covering an area slightly more than half the size of Connecticut, one is hard-pressed to find a Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot family that has not been affected in one way or another by the conflict and its lingering impact. While the Cyprus conflict predated the 1975 signing of the Helsinki Final Act, many of the principles found in that historic document have particular applicability to the situation in Cyprus, including: territorial integrity of states; peaceful settlement of disputes; respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief; and fulfillment in good faith of obligations under international law. Cyprus and Turkey were both original signatories to the Final Act. Traveling to the remote Karpas peninsula, in northeastern Cyprus, I was able to speak with an elderly pensioner in Rizokarpaso, a town where thousands of Greek Cypriots once thrived.Today they number scarcely more than 200, the largest concentration of Greek Cypriots in the Turkish occupied north. A short distance from the main square, featuring a large statue of modern Turkey’s founder Kemal Atatürk on horseback, the gentleman described his existence amid a burgeoning population of newcomers from mainland Turkey. He explained that as elderly Greek Cypriots pass away in the area, their homes are occupied, often by “settlers.” The aged man, deeply rooted in the town, showed a fierce determination to remain despite the hardships, making clear that he would not be complicit with the effective cleansing of Greek Cypriots from the region. Within minutes after we sat down at a nearby cafe, a couple of young men sat conspicuously nearby, within easy listening distance from us, an action that seemed designed to intimidate. The man pointed to a building across the street that serves as the school for the small number of Greek Cypriot children a short distance from the Orthodox Church, mainly used for funerals conducted by the lone cleric permitted to conduct such services in the region. According to the May 15 “Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations operation in Cyprus,” humanitarian assistance was provided to 367 Greek Cypriots and 133 Maronites living in the northern part of the island. While numerous mixed towns and villages existed throughout the country prior to 1974, today, the town of Pyla, partly located in the UN-monitored buffer zone, is the sole surviving bi-communal village, with around 500 Turkish Cypriots and 1,500 Greek-Cypriots. While local leaders from the communities described a generally harmonious and cooperative atmosphere, the reality is that interaction between the two remains limited, with separate schools, sports teams, municipal budgets, and police forces, among others. Many of the people I met touched in one way or another on the ongoing talks between Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Talat. In his February 28, 2008 inauguration, Christofias reiterated the requirements for a negotiated resolution of the Cyprus conflict and reunification of the country as a federal bi-zonal, bi-communal, with a single sovereignty, international personality and citizenship. Christofias and Talat have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to such a formula based on UN Security Council resolutions dating back to the 1970s. The current talks, initiated by Christofias shortly after his 2008 election, focus on six main chapters, or themes, with corresponding working groups: governance and power sharing, European Union matters, security and guarantees, territory, property, and economic matters. Technical committees have also been established to consider crime, economic and commercial matters, cultural heritage, crisis management, humanitarian matters, health, and environmental matters. While formally conducted under the auspices of the UN, the talks are mainly being conducted directly between Christofias and Talat, with teams of experts focused on specific aspects of each topic. A meeting with George Iacovou, President Christofias’ top aide on the current direct talks, helped put the negotiations in context against the backdrop of prior efforts to reunite the country, including the Annan plan, which the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected in a 2004 referendum. Officials, including government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou repeatedly emphasized that negotiations on a resolution of the conflict be by the Cypriots, for the Cypriots. That said, such an outcome depends in large measure on Turkey playing a constructive role as the leaders of the two communities seek to hammer out a comprehensive agreement. Briefings by Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou and other senior officials focused largely on the international dimension of the Cyprus issue. Central to the discussions was Turkey’s longstanding aspiration to join the European Union. Accession talks with Turkey began in October 2005. In July of that year, the EU welcomed the country’s decision to sign a protocol adapting the Ankara Agreement to expand the existing customs union between Turkey and the EU to include all member states, including Cyprus. Simultaneously to the signing, Ankara issued a unilateral declaration, noting that its signature did not amount to recognition of the Republic of Cyprus. In response, the EU issued its own declaration on September 21, 2005 making clear that “this declaration by Turkey is unilateral, does not form part of the Protocol and has no legal effect on Turkey’s obligations under the Protocol.” Despite signing the adapted agreement, Turkish ports remain closed to Cypriot ships and airplanes. Cypriot government officials suggested that the status quo has cost the island nation millions in lost business. EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on December 11, 2006 partially froze membership talks with Turkey over the impasse, suspending eight of the 35 chapters on the agenda of the accession negotiations, a step endorsed by the European Council on December 15. The Turkey 2008 Progress Report issued by the EU Commission reiterated the call for Turkey “to remove all remaining restrictions on the free movement of goods, including restrictions on means of transport regarding Cyprus.” Turkey's accession to the EU would also require Ankara to work toward recognizing the Republic of Cyprus, including establishment of diplomatic relations. The next periodic report on Turkey’s implementation of the Ankara Protocol is expected later this year. While Cyprus supports Turkey’s aspirations to join the EU, the passage of time has brought potential opposition to the surface, notably from France and Germany. Property Property, another chapter heading under active discussion, has enormous implications. According to government officials, the vast majority of properties in the occupied north were owned by Greek Cypriots. Upholding the property rights of the owners as they were prior to the invasion remains a major priority for the government, with restitution the preferred end result. Considerable real estate development in the north and the continued occupancy of their homes by strangers, has led many Greek Cypriot property owners to file cases with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) claiming their property rights were violated. In the case of Loizidou v. Turkey, the court held that “denial of access to property in northern Cyprus was imputable to Turkey” and awarded damages, finding that the applicant had “effectively lost all control over, as well as all possibilities to use and enjoy, her property.” More recently, a judgment issued by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the case of Meletis Apostolides v. David Charles Orams and Linda Elizabeth Orams could have a chilling effect on foreigners purchasing property in the occupied territory. The ECJ affirmed that courts in other EU countries must recognize and enforce Cypriot court judgments. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004. Since the partial lifting, in 2003, of restrictions imposed by authorities in the north on freedom of movement, Greek Cypriots for the first time in large numbers have been able to cross into the northern part of the country – visiting their homes and villages many had not seen since 1974. Increased movement in both directions followed, with over 15 million incident-free crossings. A Greek Cypriot shared his experience of visiting his home for the first time since being forced to flee during the invasion. He discovered that a Turkish Cypriot family was living in the house. To his surprise, the father had meticulously collected and stored all of the owner’s family photos and presented him with the box at that first visit. Similarly, the occupant had placed crosses and other religious articles in the attic for safekeeping. A Turkish Cypriot expressed relief at the fact that some Greek Cypriot friends from his home village were living in his house and maintaining his lands in the southwestern part of the country. Unfortunately, these stories appear to be the exception rather than the rule. Missing Persons Of the many painful consequences of the 1974 invasion, perhaps none is as heartrending as that of missing persons. According to The Committee on Missing Persons, a total of 1493 Greek Cypriots, including five Americans, were officially reported missing in the aftermath of the conflict. Five hundred and two Turkish Cypriots had already been missing, mainly victims of inter-communal violence that erupted in the early 1960s. The remains of one of the Americans, Andrew Kassapis, were eventually recovered and returned. The cases of the other four remain open. The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, established in 1981, facilitates the exhuming, indentifying and returning of remains of missing persons. The CMP mandate is limited in that it does not extend to Turkey. The Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities each have one member on the committee. A third member is selected by the International Committee of the Red Cross and appointed by the UN Secretary-General. While in Nicosia, I had an opportunity to be briefed separately by Elias Georgiades, the Greek Cypriot representative and Christophe Girod, the UN representative. Operating on the basis of consensus, the committee does not attempt to establish the cause of death or attribute responsibility for the death of missing persons. Since becoming operational in 2006, an anthropological laboratory has analyzed the remains of several hundred individuals. According to the committee, remains of 530 individuals have been exhumed from more than 273 burial sites throughout the country. Of remains examined at the forensic facility, the youngest individual was 10 months old and the oldest 86 years old. Walking though the lab I noted that most of the remains under examination had visible signs of gun wounds to the head. The remains of over 160 individuals have been returned to family members as a result of the bi-communal field teams and forensic work undertaken at the lab. The U.S. contributed funds for a family viewing facility which opened in 2008. Land Mines A briefing at the Mine Action Center in Cyprus provided insight into another legacy of the 1974 conflict, the presence of thousands of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. Established in 2004, the center has assisted in planning, coordinating and monitoring of demining operations, including land surveys as well as the actual clearance and disposal of mines. While thousands of landmines have been cleared to date, thousands more remain. The center’s goal is a mine-free buffer zone by the end of 2010. In addition to efforts undertaken within the framework of the UN, Cyprus’ National Guard has worked to clear anti-personnel mines. Of the 101 known or suspected minefields in the country about half are in the UN monitored buffer zone, with most of the remainder nearby. Briefers underscored the continued threat posed by minefields adjacent to the buffer zone, recounting incidents of migrants trying to cross from the northern part of the country to the government-controlled south finding themselves surrounded by mines. Farmers on either side of the buffer zone are also at risk as they seek to cultivate the arable farming lands bordering the area. The experts described the clearing operations involved in the opening of the Ledras Street pedestrian crossing point in the middle of the Cypriot capital, Nicosia, in April 2008. The Mine Action Center is assisting in clearing operations paving the way for the opening of additional crossing points. In late June, President Christofias and Mr. Talat reached agreement on the opening of the Limnitis crossing point with access to and from Kokkina in the remote northwest, offering an opportunity for development and integration by Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The United Nations has maintained an operational force on Cyprus since the establishment of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) in March 1964, following the outbreak of intercommunal violence. The force, one of the longest existing UN peacekeeping missions, consists of 858 troops, 68 police, and 160 civilians. UNFICYP is responsible for maintaining the status quo along the de facto ceasefire lines of the Cyprus National Guard, to the south, and Turkish and Turkish Cypriot forces to the north and a buffer zone between the two. The buffer zone stretches 111 miles from east to west, with 214 square miles of land between the lines, constituting about three percent of the country’s territory. The distance of separation varies from barely more than an arm’s span in some places to about four miles. Numerous villages, including Pyla, mentioned above, are located in partially or entirely in the buffer zone. The once bustling seaside city of Famagusta along the east coast remains deserted, a veritable ghost town, as it has since the mainly Greek Cypriot population was forced to flee during the second phase of the Turkish invasion in August 1974. A center for commerce and tourism, the city and surrounding region was the second largest in the country prior to the evacuation. It is home to nearly half of the people uprooted by the conflict. Standing on the beachhead just north of the city in the Turkish-controlled area the unpopulated city stretched as far down the coast as I could see. Abandoned hotels and high-rise apartment buildings rise from the sandy shore standing as a collection of steel skeletal frames liberated of their contents by plunder and the passage of time since their occupants were forced to flee. Religious Cultural Heritage The ancient Roman city of Salamis, located a short distance from Famagusta on the east coast, was the arrival point for St. Paul on his first missionary journey, accompanied by St. Barnabas, a native son of that city. Paul eventually made his way to Paphos, on the opposite side of the island, where his preaching led to the conversion of the Roman Proconsul, making Cyprus the first country governed by a Christian. A short distance from Salamis is the village of Enkomi, where according to tradition, Barnabas’ remains were buried following his martyrdom. Among minorities throughout the country recognized by the 1960 constitution are: Maronite Christians number approximately 5,000; Armenians 2,500; and Latins (Catholics) 1,000. The overwhelming majority of Cypriots are Orthodox, with Muslims comprising the next largest faith community. His Beatitude Chrysostomos II has served as Archbishop of New Justiniana and All Cyprus since November 2006. During our meeting he underscored the long history of harmony among faith communities in Cyprus. The archbishop voiced particular concern for those displaced by the 1974 invasion and stressed the importance of upholding human rights, including the rights of individuals to return to their homes. He contrasted the efforts taken by the authorities with the support of the Church to preserve mosques in the government-controlled area with the destruction of religious cultural heritage, including churches, monasteries and chapels in the north. Archbishop Chrysostomos II, who was joined by the Bishop of Karpasia, described the challenges faced by clergy seeking to travel to the occupied north, including those seeking to participate in religious services. The rare Orthodox services that are allowed to be conducted in the north are mainly for feast days of several saints, notably St. Mamas and St. Barnabas. Even such exceptional occasions have occasionally been marred by security forces preventing worshipers from crossing into the area. The Archbishop said that the Church would soon file a formal case with the European Court of Human Rights regarding its religious sites and other property in the occupied north. In the aftermath of Turkey’s 1974 military invasion and ongoing occupation of the northern part of Cyprus, a precious piece of the country’s cultural heritage is at risk of collapse – Orthodox churches, chapels and monasteries as well as those of other Christian communities. According to Archbishop Chrysostomos II, over 500 religious sites in the area have been seriously damaged or destroyed. During my travels throughout the region, I visited a score of churches – each in various stages of deterioration, all plundered. In Lapithos, in the Keryneia region, the Agia Anastasia complex is now a tourist resort. I found the Monastery of Ayios Panteleemon, in Myrtou, reduced to little more than a pigeon coup, with bird droppings everywhere – a scene I encountered repeatedly. In each church visited the interiors were stripped of religious objects, including altars, iconostasis, icons, and fonts. In some, it was clear how frescos had been chiseled out of walls and ceilings. It was a surprise to see a single bell still hanging in one of the many bell towers I saw. The main church in Rizokarpaso and a few elsewhere in the Karpas region were noteworthy for the fact that they even had doors; most others I visited did not. One of the countryside churches I visited was being used for storage, with heavy farm equipment in the yard and plastic crates and large tractor ties filling the interior space. In Keryneia, I found that a small chapel in the port was being used by the authorities as a tourist information center and snack bar. According to Church sources, others have been converted into stables, shops, and night clubs. In the village of Kythrea, a small Catholic chapel was reduced to a shell with no roof. Most of the main church had been converted into a mosque, along with a couple of others in the town, but for some reason a quarter of the structure remained in ruins. Another church, Agios Andronikos, located nearby was heavily damaged, with the rubble of the collapsed roof strewn about the interior space, with traces of frescoes still visible on the exposed walls. In the village of Stylloi, in the Famagusta region, the Profitis Ilias Church yard also serves as a cemetery. There I found desecrated ruins of graves with all of the crosses broken off of their bases and smashed. A shed in the corner of the yard was stacked with broken crosses and headstones. Another cemetery a short distance away was similarly in shambles. An adjacent Muslim cemetery was in meticulous condition. The U.S. Agency for International Development has supported a number of restoration projects in the occupied north, including work at the Agios Mamas Church in Morfou, operated mainly as an icon museum. In Keryneia, the prominent belfry of the Archangelos Mikhael Church disguises the fact that the once venerated site has likewise been converted into an icon museum. Such collections reportedly contain a small fraction of the thousands of icons, sacred vessels, vestments, manuscripts, frescos, and mosaics looted from churches, chapels and monasteries in the north. Many stolen icons and other antiquities are placed on the auction block for sale on the international market, some making their way into U.S. collections. The Byzantine Museum, in Nicosia, featured an exhibit: “Hostages in Germany: The Plundered Ecclesiastical Treasures of the Turkish-occupied Cyprus.” In a recent case, two icons from the early 1600s taken from a church in the northern village of Trikomo, were seized in Zurich by Swiss police. In stark contrast to the situation in the occupied area, in Nicosia I visited the Ömerge Mosque housed in the 13th century Church of St. Mary built by the Augustinian religious order. The recently refurbished mosque is a functioning place of worship. A short distance away in the old walled city is Bayraktar Mosque. When I visited the site there were large pallets of stone to be used to renovate the plaza in the mosque complex. Another example is the Mosque of Umm Haram, or Hala Sultan Tekke, a mosque and prominent Muslim shrine, located in Larnaca, southeast of the capital. According to Cyprus government sources, scores of other mosques and other Islamic places of worship are maintained in the south. A visitor to Cyprus need not look far to discover the scars left by the artificial division of the country following the 1974 invasion and ongoing occupation. Since my earlier trip to that island nation eleven years ago, there has been progress on some fronts, most noticeably in terms of freedom of movement since the partial lifting, in 2003, of restrictions imposed by authorities in the north. According to officials, the majority of Turkish Cypriots hold Cyprus-issued EU passports, affording them free movement throughout the EU area, employment opportunities in member countries and other benefits. In addition, thousands of Turkish Cypriots cross into the south daily for work. Other steps have come about as a direct result of the talks between the leaders of the two communities initiated last year. It remains to be seen, however, if the current negotiations will produce a comprehensive and durable resolution to the challenges in Cyprus. Beyond practical steps to ease the day-to-day lives of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, key principles such as sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity as well as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are also at stake, with implications for conflicts elsewhere. Numerous earlier diplomatic initiatives were launched, but in the end failed. A particular challenge remains the thorny issues of the tens of thousands of Turkish troops and settlers from mainland Turkey still in Cyprus today, outnumbering Turkish Cypriots. Other factors, especially Turkey’s stated desire to join the EU, should not be discounted and could prove decisive to the ultimate success or failure of the current process. Meanwhile, Christofias and Talat and their teams grapple with an array of tough issues as they seek to overcome the legacy of the past 35 years and build a brighter future for all Cypriots.

  • Commission Plays Leading Role at Parliamentary Assembly in Lithuania

    By Robert A. Hand, Policy Advisor A bipartisan U.S. delegation traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania June 29 for the 18th Annual Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). The delegation participated fully in the activity of the Assembly’s Standing Committee, the plenary sessions and the Assembly’s three General Committees. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin led the delegation, which included the following commissioners: Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, Ranking Minority Member Chris Smith, and Senator Roger Wicker, Representatives Louise McIntosh Slaughter, Mike McIntyre, G.K. Butterfield and Robert B. Aderholt. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, Senator George Voinovich and Representatives Lloyd Doggett, Madeleine Z. Bordallo and Gwen Moore also joined the delegation. Background of the OSCE PA The Parliamentary Assembly was created within the framework of the OSCE as an independent, consultative body consisting of more than 300 parliamentarians from each of the 56 countries, which stretch from the United States and Canada throughout Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The Annual Sessions are the chief venue for debating international issues and voting on a declaration addressing human rights, democratic development, rule of law, economic, environmental and security concerns among the participating States and the international community. The United States delegation is allotted 17 seats in the Assembly. Robust Congressional participation has been a hallmark of the Parliamentary Assembly since its inception nearly 20 years ago, ensuring U.S. interests are raised and discussed. 18th Annual Session This year’s Annual Session, hosted by the Parliament (Seimas) of Lithuania from June 29 to July 3, brought together more than 500 participants from 50 of the 56 OSCE participating States under the theme: “The OSCE: Addressing New Security Challenges.” The Standing Committee -- the Assembly’s leadership body (composed of Heads of Delegations from the participating States and the elected officers) -- met prior to the Annual Session. Senator Cardin, as Head of Delegation and an OSCE PA Vice President, represented the United States. Chaired by the OSCE PA President, Portuguese parliamentarian João Soares, the committee heard reports from the Assembly’s Treasurer, German parliamentarian Hans Reidel, and from the Assembly’s Secretary General, R. Spencer Oliver of the United States. The Assembly continues to operate well within its overall budget guidelines and to receive positive assessments from auditors on financial management. The committee unanimously approved the proposed budget for 2009-2010. The Standing Committee also approved several changes in the OSCE PA’s Rules of Procedure, especially related to gender balance and the holding of elections for officers, as well as 24 Supplementary Items or resolutions for consideration in plenary or committee sessions. The committee brought up as an urgent matter a resolution regarding the detention of Iranian citizens employed by the British Embassy in Tehran. Senator Cardin spoke in support of the resolution. With the Standing Committee’s business concluded, Assembly President Soares opened the Inaugural Plenary Session, stressing in his opening remarks the need for OSCE reform. The first session concluded with a discussion of gender issues led by Swedish parliamentarian Tone Tingsgaard that included comments from Rep. Gwen Moore. A Special Plenary Session the next day was scheduled to accommodate the OSCE Chair-in-Office, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who had just presided over an informal meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in Corfu, Greece, to launch a new, high-level dialogue on European security. Senator Cardin attended the Corfu meeting as a representative of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Following her speech, Bakoyannis engaged in a dialogue with parliamentarians on a number of OSCE issues. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas also addressed the special session. Lithuania will chair the OSCE in 2011. U.S. Member Involvement The U.S. delegation actively participated in the work of the Assembly’s three General Committees – the first committee for Political Affairs and Security; the second for Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and the Environment; and the third on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. Each committee considered its own draft resolution, prepared by an elected Rapporteur, as well as 23 of the 25 Supplementary Items. Two Supplementary Items, including one by President Soares on Strengthening the OSCE, were considered in plenary session. Representatives Chris Smith, Mike McIntyre, and Gwen Moore each proposed resolutions that were adopted dealing with freedom of expression on the Internet, international cooperation in Afghanistan, and prevention of maternal mortality respectively. Members of the U.S. delegation were also instrumental in garnering support for Supplementary Items introduced by others, co-sponsoring eight resolutions introduced by delegations of other countries. The U.S. delegation was responsible for 26 amendments to either the committee draft resolutions or various Supplementary Items. Chairman Cardin proposed climate-related amendments to a resolution on energy security and suggested the OSCE initiate work with Pakistan in the resolution on Afghanistan. Co-Chairman Hastings worked on numerous human rights and tolerance issues. Other amendments were sponsored by: Sen. Durbin on improving international access to clean water; Sen. Voinovich on combating anti-Semitism; Sen. Wicker on preserving cultural heritage; Rep. Smith on preventing the abuse of children; and Rep. Butterfield on responding to climate change. Bilateral Meetings The U.S. delegation also engaged in a variety of activities associated with the Annual Session, holding bilateral meetings with the delegations of Russia and Georgia focusing on their respective internal political developments and the tension in the Caucasus since Russia invaded Georgia last August and then sought to legitimize breakaway regions. Separate meetings were also held with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and other Lithuanian leaders, at which the delegation pressed for new laws to resolve outstanding claims of property seized during the Nazi and Communist eras. The delegation also presented President Adamkus a letter from President Barack Obama on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the first written reference to Lithuania. Members of the U.S. delegation attended a working lunch to discuss gender issues, hosted by Swedish parliamentarian Tingsgaard. A variety of social events, including a reception hosted by the British delegation at their embassy, afforded numerous informal opportunities to discuss issues of common concern. U.S. Leadership As a demonstration of active U.S. engagement, a Member of the U.S. Congress has always held some elected or appointed leadership role in the OSCE PA. The Vilnius Annual Session has allowed this to continue at least through July 2012. Chairman Cardin was reelected to a three-year term as one of nine Vice Presidents, a very welcome development given his long record of OSCE engagement going back to his years in the House of Representatives. Rep. Aderholt, who has attended every OSCE PA Annual Session since 2002 and often visits European countries to press human rights issues, was elected Vice Chair of the third General Committee, which handles democracy and human rights. President Soares was reelected for a second term and selected Rep. Smith to serve as a Special Representative on Human Trafficking and asked Co-Chairman Hastings to continue serving as Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs. An unfortunate development in the election of new officers is the absence of a representative of the Russian Federation. Because the United States government may disagree so substantively with current Kremlin policies, the U.S. government has always felt it critical to welcome Russian engagement in the OSCE PA. It was, therefore, a disappointment that the head of the Russian Federation delegation, Alexander Kozlovsky, reversed course and decided not to run for a Vice Presidency seat and more disappointing that a political bloc at the OSCE PA defeated Russian incumbent Natalia Karpovich as rapporteur of the Third Committee. Karpovich had been accommodating of U.S. human rights initiatives in her draft resolution. Vilnius Declaration Participants at the closing plenary session adopted the final Vilnius Declaration -- a lengthy document which reflects the initiatives and input of the U.S. delegation. Among other things, the declaration calls for strengthening the OSCE in order to enhance its legitimacy and political relevance; addresses conventional arms control, disarmament and other security-related issues of current concern in Europe; calls for greater cooperation in the energy sector and better protection of the environment; and stresses the continued importance of democratic development and respect for human rights, especially as they relate to tolerance in society and freedom of expression. The most contentious part of the declaration related to the promotion of human rights and civil liberties twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which included language noting the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. While some of the language may have been provocative, strong Russian objections to the entire text appeared to be motivated by a desire to defend a Stalinist past and minimize its crimes. The Russian delegation’s effort to block passage of this resolution reflects a similar sentiment in Moscow that recently led to the creation of a widely-criticized commission "for counteracting attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia's interests." As a July 9 column for The Economist noted about recent Russian efforts to excuse Stalinism, the “debate in Vilnius makes it a bit harder to maintain that stance.” Some of Russia’s traditional friends and allies in the OSCE PA were noticeably absent from the debate. The Balkans While the Congressional delegation’s work focused heavily on representing the United States at the OSCE PA, the trip afforded an opportunity to advance U.S. interests elsewhere in Europe. While Co-Chairman Hastings traveled to Albania to observe that country’s first parliamentary elections since becoming a NATO member earlier this year, the rest of the delegation visited Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnia-Herzegovina is still recovering from the conflict in the 1990s and the associated horrors of the Srebrenica genocide and massive ethnic cleansing. The reverberations of the conflict continue to hinder prospects for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. The United States was instrumental in bringing the Bosnian conflict to an end in 1995, especially with the negotiation of the Dayton Agreement, and the United States has invested considerable financial, diplomatic and military resources in the post-conflict period. The visit came one month after Vice President Joe Biden visited Sarajevo with a message of renewed U.S. engagement in the Balkans. While meetings with Bosnian political leaders revealed little willingness to work constructively toward constitutional reform needed for an effective central government, a meeting with English-speaking university students revealed a refreshing desire to overcome ethnic divisions and move the country forward. Belarus Given its proximity to Vilnius, members of the Congressional delegation visited Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to press for greater democracy and respect for human rights in that country. Belarus has remained a repressive state over the years even as its European neighbors have transitioned from being former Soviet or Warsaw Pact states to EU and NATO members or aspirants. Following a delegation meeting with President Alexander Lukashenka, Belarusian authorities released imprisoned American Emanuel Zeltzer, who was convicted of espionage in a closed trial and had numerous health concerns. The delegation also urged for greater progress in meeting the conditions in the Belarus Democracy Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 2004 and reauthorized in 2006. A meeting with political activists provided useful information on the situation for political opposition, non-governmental organizations and independent media. Finally, the delegation pressed Belarus’ officials to allow for an increased U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. In response to expanding U.S. sanctions, Minsk kicked out 30 diplomats last year, including the U.S. ambassador, leaving a staff of five at the U.S. Embassy. During the course of the Vilnius Annual Session, Senator Voinovich also broke away for a brief visit to Riga, Latvia. That visit was among the highest level visits from a U.S. official in three years, and was important for our relations with this NATO ally, which has deployed troops with Americans in Afghanistan without caveat and recently suffered losses which easily impact such a small country. U.S. interests abroad are advanced through active congressional participation in the OSCE PA. The 19th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held early next July in Oslo, Norway.

  • The Iran Crisis and the OSCE Neighbors

    The Hon. Mike McIntyre presided over this hearing, with the then recent re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in mind. With witnesses – Former Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer, senior fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States; Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House; and Stephen Blank, research professor of National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College – McIntyre discussed the enormous implications of the hardline president’s landslide re-election. Iran’s neighbors who belong to the OSCE, such as Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Krygyzstan, were keenly aware of Ahmadinejad’s glide to victory, with reactions ranging from curiosity to anxiety concerning how the Iranian public would react. The Iranian citizenry met Ahmadinejad with nonviolent, yet persecuted, protests in the streets, similar to other demonstrations of civil disobedience in Iran’s neighboring countries. So, the question then becomes what the effects of Ahmadinejad’s re-election are on post-Soviet states.

  • The Medvedev Thaw: Is It Real? Will It Last?

    This hearing discussed U.S. foreign policy towards Russia, focusing on how to improve relations while taking Russia’s compliance with human rights seriously.   The witnesses and Commissioners discussed the implications of Dmitri Medvedev becoming president and Vladimir Putin retaining power as Prime Minister.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Condemn Violence Against Roma

    Bipartisan Members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today voiced strong concerns for growing violence against the Roma – Europe’s largest ethnic minority group. At a briefing examining the growing prejudice against Roma in Europe and subsequent acts of violence against Roma across Europe, Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) expressed concern for the treatment of Roma, who have been victimized in their own homes – from the killing of elderly to young children burned by fire bombs. “Governments must act with a sense of urgency in combating the pernicious racism that has contributed to the social, economic, and political marginalization of Roma, resulting in the gruesome and deadly attacks on Roma in recent months,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. “But beyond the violence, the continual dislocation of Roma most recently from their historic home in Sulukule, outside Istanbul, Turkey, shows a disregard for minorities and further sends a signal of exclusion. I call on all European countries to reverse this troubling trend.” Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) added: “In the wake of the recent European Parliamentary elections, we are seeing growth of political parties who espouse anti-immigration, anti-minority, and anti-Semitic policies. I urge governments across Europe to respect Roma human rights. They should fully integrate the continent’s largest ethnic minority group, do away with segregated schooling, and when crimes are committed, thoroughly investigate and hold criminals accountable for their acts of hate.” Helsinki Commissioner Congressman Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) added: “Some people have compared the firebombing and other attacks on Roma in the Czech Republic and Hungary to the sniper attacks that took place in the area a few years ago. For Roma, who are the singular targets in this case, we can only imagine the fear that grips those communities. I urge the Czech and Hungarian Governments to do everything possible to bring the perpetrators of those attacks to justice and to ensure that they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

  • Human Rights in Afghanistan

    Janice Helwig, policy advisor at the Commission, examined the current state of human rights in Afghanistan, a Partner for Cooperation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  While some progress has been made, rule of law and protection of human rights remains fragile. Witnesses Sima Samar and Scott Worden highlighted the harassment, intimidation, and violence human rights defenders and civil society leaders face while women and girls continue to be threatened and even attacked as they try to go to work or school.  They discuss the limited, if any, freedom of speech or belief reflected by the killings of journalists and the imposing of the death penalty on those who seek to convert from Islam to Christianity. 

  • 2008 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    The OSCE’s 2008 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting offered an opportunity to review compliance on a full range of human rights and humanitarian commitments of the organization’s participating States. Tolerance issues featured prominently in the discussions, which included calls for sustained efforts to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. A U.S. proposal for a high-level conference on tolerance issues in 2009, however, met with only tepid support. Core human rights issues, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion, continued to draw large numbers of speakers. Throughout the discussions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern about Kazakhstan’s failure to implement promised reforms and questioned its readiness to serve as OSCE Chair-in-Office in 2010. Greece, slated to assume the chairmanship in January, came under criticism for its treatment of ethnic minorities. As in the past, the United State faced criticism for retaining the death penalty and for its conduct in counter-terrorism operations. Belarusian elections, held on the eve of the HDIM, came in for a round of criticism, while Russia continued to advocate proposals on election observation that would significantly limit the OSCE’s independence in such activities. Finally, discussion of the Russia-Georgia conflict was conspicuous by its near absence, though related human rights and humanitarian concerns will likely receive more prominence in the lead up to and during the December OSCE Ministerial in Helsinki. Background From September 29 to October 10, 2008, the OSCE participating States met in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual(1) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM). The HDIM is Europe’s largest human rights gathering, convened to discuss compliance by the participating States with the full range of human dimension commitments they have all adopted by consensus. The meeting was organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), according to an agenda approved by consensus of all 56 participating States. The HDIM is the only multinational human rights meeting in Europe where representatives of NGOs and government representatives have equal access to the speakers list. Indeed, over half of the statements delivered at this year’s HDIM were made by NGO representatives. Such implementation review meetings are intended to serve as the participating States’ principal venue for public diplomacy and are important vehicles for identifying continued areas of poor human rights performance. Although the HDIM is not tasked with decision-making responsibilities, the meetings can provide impetus for further focus on particular human dimension concerns and help shape priorities for subsequent action. Coming in advance of ministerial meetings that are usually held in December, the HDIMs provide an additional opportunity for consultations among the participating States on human dimension issues that may be addressed by Ministers. (This year, for example, there were discussions on the margins regarding a possible Ministerial resolution on equal access to education for Roma and advancing work in the field of tolerance and non-discrimination, including the possibility of convening a related high-level meeting in 2009.) OSCE rules, adopted by consensus, allow NGOs to have access to human dimension meetings. However, this general rule does not apply to “persons and organizations which resort to the use of violence or publicly condone terrorism or the use of violence.”(2) There are no other grounds for exclusion. The decision as to whether or not a particular individual or NGO runs afoul of this rule is made by the Chairman-in-Office. In recent years, some governments have tried to limit or restrict NGO access at OSCE meetings in an effort to avoid scrutiny and criticism of their records. This year, in the run up to the HDIM, Turkmenistan held the draft agenda for the meeting hostage, refusing to give consensus as part of an effort to block the registration of Turkmenistan NGOs which have previously attended the implementation meetings and criticized Ashgabat. Turkmenistan officials finally relented and allowed the adoption of the HDIM agenda in late July, but did not participate in the Warsaw meeting. Along these lines, the Russian delegation walked out in protest when the NGO “Russian-Chechen Friendship Society” took the floor to speak during a session on freedom of the media. At the 2008 HDIM, senior Department of State participants included Ambassador W. Robert Pearson, Head of Delegation; Ambassador Julie Finley, Head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE; Ambassador Karen Stewart, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; and Mr. Bruce Turner, Acting Director, Office for European Security and Political Affairs. Mr. Will Inboden, advisor on religious freedom issues, and Mr. Nathan Mick, advisor on Roma issues, served as Public Members. Ms. Felice Gaer, Chair of the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom, and Mr. Michael Cromartie, Vice Chair, also served as members of the delegation. Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Fred L. Turner and Senior State Department Advisor Ambassador Clifford Bond also served as members of the U.S. Delegation, along with Helsinki Commission staff members Alex T. Johnson, Ronald J. McNamara, Winsome Packer, Erika B. Schlager, and Dr. Mischa E. Thompson. In comparison with previous HDIMs, the 2008 meeting was relatively subdued – perhaps surprisingly so given that, roughly eight weeks before its opening, Russian tanks had rolled onto Georgian territory. While the full scope of human rights abuses were not known by the time the meeting opened, human rights defenders had already documented serious rights violations, including the targeting of villages in South Ossetia inhabited by ethnic Georgians. Nevertheless, discussion of the Russian-Georgian conflict was largely conspicuous by its near absence. Highlights The annual HDIM agenda provides a soup-to-nuts review of the implementation of core human rights and fundamental freedoms (e.g., freedoms of speech, assembly and association; prevention of torture; right to a fair trial), as well as rule of law, free elections and democracy-building issues. National minorities, Roma, tolerance and non-discrimination are also on the agenda. The United States continued its longstanding practice of naming specific countries and cases of concern. In accordance with OSCE procedures, the agenda included three specially selected topics, each of which was given a full day of review. This year, those subjects were: 1) education and awareness-raising in the promotion of human rights; 2) freedom of religion or belief; and 3) focus on identification, assistance and access to justice for the victims of trafficking. Of the three, the sessions on religious liberty attracted the most speakers with over 50 statements. A large number of side events were also part of the HDIM, organized by non-governmental organizations, OSCE institutions or offices, other international organizations, or participating States. These side events augment implementation review sessions by providing an opportunity to examine specific subjects or countries in greater depth and often with a more lively exchange than in the formal sessions. Along with active participation at these side events, the United States held extensive bilateral meetings with government representatives, as well as with OSCE officials and NGO representatives. At the end of the second week of the HDIM, Human Rights Directors from capitals also held a working meeting to discuss issues of mutual concern, with a special focus on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, on women, peace and security. This year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also hosted a reception to honor the OSCE Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief, as well as the tenth anniversary of the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act and the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Greece, scheduled to assume the chairmanship of the OSCE starting in January 2009, came under particular criticism for its treatment of minorities. Unlike the highly emotional reactions of senior Greek diplomats in Warsaw two years ago, the delegation this year responded to critics by circulating position papers elaborating the Greek government’s views. Greece also responded to U.S. criticism regarding the application of Sharia law to Muslim women in Thrace by stating that Greece is prepared to abolish the application of the Sharia law to members of the Muslim minority in Thrace when this is requested by the interested parties whom it affects directly. Issues relating to the treatment of ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities in the OSCE region are likely to remain an important OSCE focus in the coming period, especially in light of developments in the Caucasus, and it remains to be seen how the Greek chairmanship will address these concerns in light of its own rigid approach to minorities in its domestic policies. Throughout the HDIM, many NGOs continued to express concern about the fitness of Kazakhstan to serve as OSCE Chair-in-Office in 2010 given serious short comings in that country’s human rights record. In particular, Kazakhstan was sharply criticized for a draft religion law (passed by parliament, but not yet adopted into law). One NGO argued that a Kazakhstan chairmanship, with this law in place, would undermine the integrity of the OSCE, and urged participating States to reconsider Kazakhstan for the 2010 leadership position if the law is enacted. Juxtaposing Kazakhstan’s future chairmanship with the possible final passage of a retrograde law on religion, the Almaty Helsinki Committee asked the assembled representatives, “Are human rights still a priority – or not?” (Meanwhile, on October 5, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Kazakhstan.) On the eve of the HDIM, Belarus held elections. Those elections received considerable critical attention during the HDIM’s focus on democratic elections, with the United States and numerous others expressing disappointment that the elections did not meet OSCE commitments, despite promises by senior Belarusian officials that improvements would be forthcoming. Norway and several other speakers voiced particular concern over pressures being placed on ODIHR to circumscribe its election observation activities. Illustrating those pressures, the Russian Federation reiterated elements of a proposal it drafted on election observation that would significantly limit the independence of ODIHR in its election observation work. The Head of the U.S. Delegation noted that an invitation for the OSCE to observe the November elections in the United States was issued early and without conditions as to the size or scope of the observation. (Russia and others have attempted to impose numerical and other limitations on election observation missions undertaken by the ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.) Tolerance issues featured prominently during discussions this year, as they have at other recent HDIMs. Forty-three interventions were made, forcing the moderator to close the speakers list and requiring presenters to truncate their remarks. Muslim, migrant, and other groups representing visible minorities focused on discrimination in immigration policies, employment, housing, and other sectors, including racial profiling and hate crimes, amidst calls for OSCE countries to improve implementation of existing anti-discrimination laws. Jewish and other NGOs called for sustained efforts to combat anti-Semitism. Representatives of religious communities expressed concern about the confusion made by ODIHR in its Annual Hate Crimes Report between religious liberty issues and intolerance towards members of religious groups. This year, some governments and NGOs elevated their concerns relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, increasingly placing these concerns in the context of the OSCE’s focus on hate crimes. A civil society tolerance pre-HDIM meeting and numerous side events were held on a broad range of tolerance-related topics. The United States and several U.S.-based NGOS called for a high-level conference on tolerance issues to be held in 2009. Unlike in prior years, however, no other State echoed this proposal or stepped forward with an offer to host such a high-level conference. In many of the formal implementation review sessions this year, NGOs made reference to specific decisions of the European Court on Human Rights, urging governments to implement judgments handed down in recent cases. During the discussion of issues relating to Roma, NGOs continued to place a strong focus on the situation in Italy, where Roma (and immigrants) have been the target of hate crimes and mob violence. NGOs reminded Italy that, at the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting in July, they had urged Italy to come to the HDIM with concrete information regarding the prosecution of individuals for violent attacks against Roma. Regrettably, the Italian delegation was unable to provide any information on prosecutions, fostering the impression that a climate of impunity persists in Italy. As at other OSCE fora, the United States was criticized for retaining the death penalty, contrary to the abolitionist trend among the OSCE participating States. Of the 56 OSCE participating States, 54 have abolished, suspended or imposed a moratorium on the death penalty and only two – the United States and Belarus – continue to impose capital punishment as a criminal sanction. Two side events held during the HDIM also put a spotlight on the United States. The first event was organized by Freedom House and entitled, “Today’s American: How Free?” At this event, Freedom House released a book by the same title which examined “the state of freedom and justice in post-9/11 America.” The second event was a panel discussion on “War on Terror or War on Human Rights?” organized by the American Civil Liberties Union. Speakers from the ACLU, Amnesty International and the Polish Human Rights Foundation largely focused on issues relating to the United States, including the military commission trials at Guantanamo, and official Polish investigations into allegations that Poland (working with the United States) was involved in providing secret prisons for the detention and torture of “high-value” detainees.(3) In a somewhat novel development, Russian Government views were echoed by several like-minded NGOs which raised issues ranging from claims of “genocide” by Georgia in South Ossetia to grievances by ethnic Russians in Latvia and Estonia. Ironically, the Russian delegation, in its closing statement, asserted that this year’s HDIM had an “improved atmosphere” due (it was asserted) to the efforts by both governments and NGOs to find solutions to problems rather than casting blame. As at past HDIMs, some sessions generated such strong interest that the time allotted was insufficient to accommodate all those who wished to contribute to the discussion. For example, the session on freedom of the media was severely constrained, with more than 20 individuals unable to take the floor in the time allotted, and several countries unable to exercise rights of reply. Conversely, some sessions – for example, the session on equal opportunity for men and women, and the session on human dimension activities and projects – had, in terms of unused time available, an embarrassment of riches. Following a general pattern, Turkmenistan was again not present at the HDIM sessions this year.(4) In all, 53 participating States were represented at the meeting. At the closing session, the United States raised issues of particular concern relating to Turkmenistan under the “any other business” agenda item. (This is the sixth year in a row that the United States has made a special statement about the situation in Turkmenistan, a country that some view as having the worst human rights record in the OSCE.) For the past two years, there has been a new government in Turkmenistan. The U.S. statement this year noted some positive changes, but urged the new government to continue the momentum on reform by fully implementing steps it already has begun. In addition, the United States called for information on and access to Turkmenistan’s former representative to the OSCE, Batyr Berdiev. Berdiev, once Turkmenistan’s ambassador to the OSCE, was reportedly among the large number of people arrested following an attack on then-President Niyazov’s motorcade in 2002. His fate and whereabouts remain unknown. OSCE PA President João Soares addressed the closing plenary, the most senior Assembly official to participate in an HDIM meeting. The Russian-Georgian Conflict With the outbreak of armed violence between Russia and Georgia occurring only two months earlier, the war in South Ossetia would have seemed a natural subject for discussion during the HDIM. As a human rights forum, the meeting was unlikely to serve as a venue to debate the origins of the conflict, but there were expectations that participants would engage in a meaningful discussion of the human dimension of the tragedy and efforts to stem ongoing rights violations. As it turned out, this view was not widely shared by many of the governments and NGOs participating in the meeting. The opening plenary session foreshadowed the approach to this subject followed through most of the meeting. Among the senior OSCE officials, only High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek squarely addressed the situation in the south Caucasus. Vollebaek condemned the19th century-style politicization of national minority issues in the region and the violation of international borders. At the time of the crisis, he had cautioned against the practice of “conferring citizenship en masse to residents of other States” (a reference to Russian actions in South Ossetia) and warned that “the presence of one's citizens or ‘ethnic kin’ abroad must not be used as a justification for undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other States.” Sadly, that sound advice went unobserved in Georgia, but it is still applicable elsewhere in the OSCE region.(5) The statement delivered by France on behalf of the countries of the European Union failed to address the conflict. During the plenary, only Norway and Switzerland joined the United States in raising humanitarian concerns stemming from the conflict. In reply, the head of the Russian delegation delivered a tough statement which sidestepped humanitarian concerns, declaring that discussion of Georgia’s territorial integrity was now “irrelevant.” He called on participating States to adopt a pragmatic approach and urged acknowledgment of the creation of the new sovereign states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, terming their independence “irreversible” and “irrevocable.” Perhaps more surprising than this Russian bluster was the failure of any major NGO, including those who had been active in the conflict zone collecting information and working on humanitarian relief, to take advantage of the opportunity to raise the issue of South Ossetia during the opening plenary. As the HDIM moved into its working sessions, which cover the principal OSCE human dimension commitments, coverage of the conflict fared better. The Representative on Freedom of the Media remarked, in opening the session on free speech and freedom of the media that, for the first time in some years, two OSCE participating States were at war. During that session, he and other speakers called on the Russian Federation to permit independent media access to occupied areas to investigate the charges and counter-charges of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The tolerance discussion included calls by several delegations for Russia to cooperate and respond favorably to the HCNM’s request for access to South Ossetia to investigate the human rights situation in that part of Georgia. Disappointingly, during the session devoted to humanitarian commitments, several statements, including those of the ODHIR moderator and EU spokesperson, focused narrowly on labor conditions and migration, and failed to raise concerns regarding refugees and displaced persons, normally a major focus of this agenda item and obviously relevant to the Georgia crisis. Nevertheless, the session developed into one of the more animated at the HDIM. The Georgian delegation, which had been silent up to that point, spoke out against Russian aggression and alleged numerous human rights abuses. It expressed gratitude to the European Union for sending monitors to the conflict zone and urged the EU to pressure Russia to fully implement the Six-Point Ceasefire agreement negotiated by French President Sarkozy. The United States joined several delegations and NGOs calling on all parties to the conflict to observe their international obligations to protect refugees and create conditions for their security and safe voluntary return. In a pattern observed throughout the meeting, the Russian delegation did not respond to Georgian charges. It left it to an NGO, “Ossetia Accuses,” to make Russia’s case that Georgia had committed genocide against the people of South Ossetia. A common theme among many interventions was a call for an independent investigation of the causes of the conflict and a better monitoring of the plight of refugees, but to date Russian and South Ossetian authorities have denied both peacekeeping monitors and international journalists access to the region from elsewhere in Georgia. A joint assessment mission of experts from ODIHR and the HCNM, undertaken in mid-October, were initially denied access to South Ossetia, with limited access to Abkhazia granted to some team members. Eventually, several experts did gain access to the conflict zone in South Ossetia, though to accomplish this they had to travel from the north via the Russian Federation. One can only speculate why Georgia received such limited treatment at this HDIM. The crisis in the south Caucasus had dominated OSCE discussions at the Permanent Council in Vienna for weeks preceding the HDIM. Some participants may have feared that addressing it in Warsaw might have crowded out the broader human rights agenda. Others may have felt that, in the absence of a clear picture of the circumstances surrounding the conflict and with so many unanswered questions, it was best not to be too critical or too accusatory of either party. The EU (and particularly the French) were, at the time of the HDIM, in the process of negotiating the deployment of European observers to the conflict zone, and may have feared that criticism of Russia at this forum would have only complicated the task. In fact, the EU’s only oblique reference to Georgia was made at HDIM’s penultimate working session (a discussion which focused on human dimension “project activity”) in connection with the work of High Commissioner for National Minorities. (One observer of this session remarked that there seemed to be a greater stomach for dinging the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights for shortcomings in its work than for criticizing Russia for invading a neighboring OSCE participating State.) Finally, other participants, particularly NGOs, seemed more inclined to view human rights narrowly in terms of how governments treat their own citizens and not in terms of how the failure to respect key principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity are invariably accompanied by gross violations of human rights and can produce humanitarian disasters. Amid simmering tensions between Russia and Georgia which could erupt into renewed fighting, and completion of a report requested by the Finnish Chairmanship in time for the OSCE’s Ministerial in Helsinki in early December, Ministers will have to grapple with the impact of the south Caucasus conflict and what role the OSCE will have. Beyond Warsaw The relative quiet of the HDIM notwithstanding, French President M. Nicolas Sarkozy put a spotlight on OSCE issues during the course of the meeting. Speaking at a conference in Evian, France, on October 8, he responded to a call by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, issued in June during meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for a new “European Security Treaty” to revise Europe’s security architecture – a move seen by many as an attempt to rein in existing regional security organizations, including NATO and the OSCE. President Sarkozy indicated a willingness to discuss Medvedev’s ideas, but argued they should be addressed in the context of a special OSCE summit, which Sarkozy suggested could be held in 2009. The escalating global economic crisis was also very much on the minds of participants at the HDIM as daily reports of faltering financial institutions, plummeting markets, and capital flight promoted concerns over implications for the human dimension. Several delegations voiced particular concern over the possible adverse impact on foreign workers and those depending on remittances to make ends meet. Looking Ahead The human rights and humanitarian concerns stemming from the war in South Ossetia will likely come into sharper focus in the lead up to the December OSCE Ministerial in Helsinki as talks on the conflict resume in Geneva, and OSCE and other experts attempt to document the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of fighting and current conditions. The coming weeks can also be expected to bring renewed calls for an overhaul of the human dimension and the ODIHR by those seeking to curb attention paid to human rights and subordinate election monitoring activities. It remains to be seen whether Kazakhstan will fulfill the commitments it made a year ago in Madrid to undertake meaningful reforms by the end of this year. There is also the risk that a deepening economic crisis will divert attention elsewhere, even as the resulting fallout in the human dimension begins to manifest itself. It is unclear what priorities the Greek chairmanship will be set for 2009, a year that portends peril and promise. Notes (1) OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meetings are held every year, unless there is a Summit. Summits of Heads of State or Government are preceded by Review Conferences, which are mandated to review implementation of all OSCE commitments in all areas (military-security, economic and environmental cooperation, and the human dimension). (2) Helsinki Document 1992, The Challenges of Change, IV (16). (3) Interestingly, at the session on human rights and counterterrorism, moderator Zbigniew Lasocik, member of the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, noted that Poland’s Constitutional Court had, the previous day, struck down a 2004 law that purported to allow the military to shoot down hijacked commercial aircraft – even if they were being used as weapons like the planes that killed thousands of people on 9/11. The Court reportedly reasoned that shooting down an aircraft being used as bomb would infringe on the constitutional protection of human life and dignity of the passengers. (4) Turkmenistan sent a representative to the HDIM in 2005 for the first time in several years. While responding to criticism delivered in the sessions, the representative appeared to focus more on monitoring the activities of Turkmen NGOs participating in the meeting. Turkmenistan subsequently complained that certain individuals who had been charged with crimes against the State should not be allowed to participate in OSCE meetings. Turkmenistan officials did not participate in the 2006 or 2007 HDIMs. Participation in the 2008 meeting would have been a welcome signal regarding current political developments. (5) The HCNM had previously expressed concern regarding Hungary’s overreach vis-a-vis ethnic Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries. In 2004, Hungary held a referendum on extending Hungarian citizenship to ethnic Hungarians abroad – an idea that still holds political currency in some quarters of Hungary – but the referendum failed due to low voter turnout.

  • OSCE 101: Briefing for Civil Society

    Please join the U.S. Helsinki Commission for OSCE 101: BRIEFING FOR CIVIL SOCIETY Thursday, September 4, 2008  10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.  Rayburn House Office Building  B318 For those in need of a refresher course and those interested in becoming involved. Learn about the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Role of Civil Society For those planning to travel to Warsaw, Poland, remember to register to participate in the OSCE’s Annual Human Rights Meeting: What: Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) When: September 29 – October 10, 2008 Where: Warsaw, Poland Why: Annual 2-week human rights conference What is the HDIM? The term "human dimension" describes the set of norms and activities related to human rights, the rule of law, and democracy that are regarded within the OSCE as one of the three pillars of its comprehensive security concept, along with the politico-military and the economic and environmental dimensions. Every year in Warsaw, the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) organizes a two-week conference, the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM). The HDIM is a forum where OSCE participating States discuss the implementation of human dimension commitments that were adopted by consensus at prior OSCE Summits or Ministerial Meetings. These commitments are not legally binding norms; instead, they are politically binding - a political promise to comply with the standards elaborated in OSCE documents. Follow-up meetings to review the implementation of the commitments are based on the principle that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the state concerned. A comprehensive, 2-volume compilation of the OSCE human dimension commitments (available in English and in Russian) can be ordered free of charge through the ODIHR website: Volume 1: Thematic Compilation and Volume 2: Chronological Compilation.

  • Condemning July 27, 2008 Bombings in Istanbul, Turkey

    Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the former President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I condemn in the strongest possible terms the bombings that shook the Gungoren neighborhood of Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday.  This was the deadliest attack to take place in Istanbul in five years, which killed 17 men, women and children and wounded more than one hundred others. I express my most sincere condolences to the families who lost loved ones and to the individuals injured in this terrorist attack.  Madam Speaker, I stand with the Turkish government and the people of Turkey in condemning these cowardly acts and hope to see those responsible brought to justice very soon.  The United States and Turkey have shared a historic partnership for the past fifty-plus years and it is during these difficult times that we must stand together.  Madam Speaker, the United States remains committed to working with Turkey in fighting terrorism in Turkey, in the United States, and around the world. I urge my colleagues to stand with me in condemning these heinous attacks.

  • Combating Sexual Exploitation of Children: Strengthening International Law Enforcement Cooperation

    The hearing examined current practices for sharing information among law enforcement authorities internationally and what concrete steps can be taken to strengthen that cooperation to more effectively investigate cases of sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography on the Internet. Despite current efforts, sexual exploitation of children is increasing globally. The use of the Internet has made it easier for pedophiles and sexual predators to have access to child pornography and potential victims. In May, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Combating Child Exploitation Act of 2008 (S.1738), which will allocate over one billion dollars over the next eight years to provide Federal, state, and local law enforcement with the resources and structure to find, arrest, and prosecute those who prey on our children.

  • Hate in the Information Age

    The briefing provided an overview of hate crimes and hate propaganda in the OSCE region, focusing on the new challenges posed by the internet and other technology. Mischa Thompson led the panelists in a discussion of the nature and frequency of hate crimes in the OSCE region, including the role of the internet and other technologies in the training, recruiting, and funding of hate groups. Panelists - Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Mark A. Potok, Christopher Wolf, Tad Stahnke – discussed how best to combat hate crimes and hate propaganda and highlighted internet governance issues in the United States and Europe and how the internet extensively contributes to hate propaganda. Issues such as free speech and content control were at the center of the discussion.

  • Clearing the Air, Feeding the Fuel Tank: Understanding the Link Between Energy and Environmental Security

    Congress has an obligation to work to ensure a healthy and safe environment for the benefit of current and future generations.  To reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and achieve a healthier environment, we need a multi-faceted approach that addresses the tangled web of issues involved.  We need to foster both energy independence and clean energy. Given rising sea levels, the increasing severity of storm surges, and higher temperatures the world over, the impact of global climate change is undeniable.  Unless we act now, we will see greater and greater threats to our way of life on this planet.

  • Iraqi Refugee Crisis: The Calm before the Storm?

    By Marlene Kaufmann, General Counsel and Lale M. Mamaux, Communications Director Jordan In March, staff of the United States Helsinki Commission travelled to Amman, Jordan, an OSCE partner State, and met with government officials and leading NGOs regarding the Iraqi refugee crisis. Helsinki Commission Chairman, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, has introduced comprehensive legislation to address this crisis, and the Commission held a hearing on April 10, regarding the impact of Iraqi refugees on OSCE States and Partners, including Jordan, Egypt and Turkey. It was revealed during the visit in Jordan that the situation on the ground is becoming increasingly desperate. Government officials emphasized the economic and infrastructure strains caused by the refugees – soaring rents, inflation, and strains on educational and medical resources, as well as water. The NGO community sees an increase in desperation among the refugee population that they are attempting to serve. This increased desperation, combined with increasing resentment among host country populations, is becoming a recipe for disaster. As a result of the widespread sectarian violence that erupted in Iraq in 2006, masses of Iraqis began fleeing to neighboring countries in the region for shelter. It is estimated that more than one million Iraqi refugees have fled to Jordan, Syria and other neighboring states, and approximately 2.2 million Iraqis have been displaced within Iraq itself. Jordan, a small Arab nation with a population of six million, has accepted almost half a million Iraqi refugees. This amounts to an 8 percent increase in the population of Jordan in essentially a year and a half. This would be the equivalent of the United States enduring a stream of 24 million people across its borders in the same time frame. Poverty, unemployment, and inflation are on the rise in the country making it extremely difficult for the Jordanian government and society to cope with the influx of refugees. In 2007, Jordan effectively sealed its borders by imposing strict visa requirements on Iraqis seeking entry, documents that most fleeing Iraqis do not have or would be required to make a dangerous trip to Baghdad to try to obtain. Jordan is not a party to the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees and does not have a domestic refugee law. The government does not, therefore, recognize Iraqis as residents of its country, but rather classifies them as “guests” or “visitors.” The Jordanian government does not allow Iraqis to work, however some do find jobs in the “underground” economy, which at best pay barely enough to survive and for which the threat of exploitation is significant. In many situations, men, fearing arrest and deportation, remain in hiding and rely on whatever income their wives and children can generate. Iraqis are permitted to seek medical assistance at government clinics, where they are offered the same health care benefits as uninsured Jordanians. In addition, as a result of pressure from the international community, Jordan opened its schools to Iraqi children. It is estimated that approximately 25,000 Iraqi students have enrolled for the 2007-2008 school year, a significantly smaller number than was expected. While the admission of Iraqi students is relatively low, it has nevertheless put a substantial strain on an already overburdened school system. As a result, the day-to-day needs of Iraqis continue to increase as their resources are diminishing. Multiple families are sharing a single dwelling and those seeking medical attention frequently suffer from severe depression and stress related illnesses. Many of the NGOs offering services in Jordan are attempting to address this burgeoning medical crisis but lack the resources to provide comprehensive counseling – leaving increasingly large numbers of the vulnerable Iraqi refugee population simmering in a cauldron of stress and depression. This situation does not bode well for long-term societal stability. Attempts to provide assistance to Iraqi refugees in Jordan are complicated by both the location and the mixed demographics of the population. Unlike the situation of the Palestinian refugees encamped in tent cities in the “no-man’s-land” on the Syrian border with Iraq, there are no Iraqi refugee camps in Jordan -- where the numbers and needs of the refugees could be easily identified, and to which humanitarian and other assistance could be quickly and efficiently delivered. Rather, Iraqi refugees in Jordan are dispersed throughout Amman and the surrounding areas. A number of refugees -- some of whom came to Jordan to escape the regime of Saddam Hussein, returned to Iraq after his fall, and now have taken up residence again in Jordan -- are quite wealthy, and are obviously able to fend for themselves. The bulk of Iraqi refugees in Jordan, however, arrived with few resources or have now, as is the case with those who were “middle class” when they fled, completely depleted whatever income they may have had from savings, or selling their homes and possessions. The Jordanian government made it quite clear that they want Iraqi refugees to be treated humanely, yet they do not want Iraqis to permanently settle in Jordan. This fact was reinforced at an international conference hosted by Jordan on March 18, during which Foreign Minister Salah Al-Bashir remarked, “But the main challenge now is to find the right environment for a political settlement in Iraq that would restore security and stability, helping Iraqi refugees return home, because there is no other alternative.” While the Jordanian government sees no alternative for Iraqis other than return, the reality is quite different. Many NGOs in Jordan are looking at this from a long-term perspective with some estimates of Iraqis staying for at least ten years, or perhaps permanently. Many Iraqis who fled have had a close family member or friend killed, threatened, kidnapped, or tortured, making return extremely difficult if not impossible. As resources are depleted and Iraqis become more and more desperate to survive, the economy will not be the main source of worry for host countries. Increasingly desperate refugees interacting on a daily basis with increasingly resentful host country populations could sow the seeds of instability on the streets of Amman and Damascus – the current situation may just be the calm before the storm. In Congress, Commission Chairman Hastings, who is also Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, has introduced comprehensive legislation to address this humanitarian and potential security crisis. In January, Chairman Hastings and Congressman John Dingell wrote to President Bush requesting an additional $1.5 billion in funding in the FY 2009 budget, and also called on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to layout a long-term plan to address the plight of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced populations (IDPs). In April, Chairman Hastings joined with Congressman Bill Delahunt and nine of his Congressional colleagues in sending a bipartisan letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urging the government of Iraq to use $1 billion (4 percent) of the expected $25 billion budget surplus to assist Iraqi refugees and IDPs. Additionally, Commission Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin was successful in offering an amendment to the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations bill last year. Co-Chairman Cardin’s amendment provides six months of eligibility for resettlement assistance to Iraq Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders when they arrive here in the United States, ensuring that Iraqis are able to make the transition to a productive life in the United States by providing preliminary housing, school enrollment and job assistance. On April 10, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on the Iraqi refugee crisis which focused on the impact of the massive displacement of Iraqi citizens on Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Turkey as well as other countries in the region; the security implications of this humanitarian crisis; and efforts by the United States and others to address the plight of Iraqi refugees, including humanitarian relief, resettlement of Iraqi refugees, host country commitments, and European cooperation as well as the development of a long-term plan to address this crisis. Testifying before the Commission were Ambassador James Foley, Senior Coordinator for Iraqi Refugees, U.S. Department of State; Ms. Lori Scialabba, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Homeland Security for Iraqi Refugees, Department of Homeland Security; Mr. Michel Gabaudan, Washington Director, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); Mr. Anders Lago, Mayor of Sodertalje, Sweden; and Mr. Noel Saleh, Member, Board of Directors, Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS). During the hearing Ambassador Foley stated that the resettlement of Iraqi refugees to the United States “is turning around.” He added, “You are going to see in the coming months, especially in the late spring and summer, tremendous numbers of Iraqi refugees arriving in the United States.” Mayor Lago of Sodertalje, Sweden whose town has a population of 83,000 and has taken in more than 5,000 Iraqi refugees noted “The millions of refugees in the world must be a concern for us all, not just for those areas bordering on the breeding grounds of war, or for a small number of countries and cities such as Sodertalje.” He further noted, “Despite the fact that we need immigrants, Sodertalje has become a town that must now say - STOP, STOP, STOP! Do not misunderstand me. We will always help others when we can. We must act when the lives of our brothers and sisters are in danger. It is imperative that we have a humane refugee policy worldwide. Our common agreement, that all people are equal, no matter what color religion or gender must become a reality.” The hearing came on the heels of General David Petraeus’ and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker’s testimony before Congress about the Iraq war. Turkey Helsinki Commission staff also travelled to Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey and held meetings with leading NGOs as well as staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While the main focus of the trip was the Iraqi refugee crisis, staff also discussed U.S.-Turkey bilateral relations, human trafficking, migration, security threats posed to Turkey by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – a known terrorist organization, as well as Turkey’s cooperation in Iraq. It is estimated that Turkey is currently hosting 6,000-10,000 Iraqi refugees. Unlike Jordan and Syria, Turkey is a party to the 1951 UN refugee convention. Turkey, however, imposes a “geographical limitation” on its commitments under that agreement and only recognizes refugees arriving from Europe. Iraqis entering Turkey from non-European countries are treated as asylum-seekers. UNHCR-Turkey has assumed responsibility for processing these individuals and it then submits its recommendations to the Turkish government. The Turkish government, however, ultimately determines the status of asylum-seekers making the registration process time-consuming and confusing. Those who have registered with UNHCR for asylum can wait up to nine months to be fully processed and are not entitled to any assistance during that period. In the interim, the refugees are reliant upon the charity of the communities in which they have settled or must fend for themselves on the streets. Iraqi refugees entering Turkey are not permitted to reside in Ankara or Istanbul – where they may have relatives or access to an established Iraqi community – but are directed to a number of “satellite cities” in different locations throughout Turkey. In most instances, there is no Iraqi community or support system in these remote locations, making resettlement, access to services, and integration into the local community extremely difficult for the refugees. The Turkish government has accepted in principle the establishment of seven ‘Reception Centers,’ to provide services to refugees from Iraq – planned in or near the satellite cities to which they are currently directed. These centers would be co-financed with the European Commission (EC). The EC would pay 75 percent of the project and the Turkish government would pay the remaining 25 percent. However, the day-to-day oversight and financial obligations would fall to the Turkish government. While the EC indicated that these centers would be used to house Iraqi refugees with a capacity of 750 per center, Turkish officials gave the impression that these centers would be for migrant workers and victims of human trafficking. In addition to the seven Reception Centers, the EC will finance two Removal Centers for those Iraqis eligible to be processed for resettlement. The Helsinki Commission will monitor the development of these centers, their location, populations to be accepted, operation and services offered in view of concerns that they may become isolated “camps” where Iraqi refugees and other vulnerable populations are warehoused until they receive final status determinations or resettlement. Sulukule Helsinki Commission staff visited Sulukule in Istanbul, which has been home to a Roma community since 1054 and is one of the oldest Romani settlements in Europe. Sulukule is on the brink of total demolition, due in part to an urban transformation project developed by the Fatih and Greater Istanbul municipalities as part of Istanbul’s participation in the 2010 European Capital of Culture event. The outcome of this urban renewal plan will destroy an historical neighborhood and force 3,500 residents of Sulukule 25 miles (40 kilometers) outside of the city to the district of Tasoluk or, worse, onto the streets of Istanbul. The Roma community in Sulukule is living on the fringes of society and continues to be treated unfairly. Instead of implementing an urban renewal project that would preserve this centuries-old neighborhood and allow the Roma there to remain together as a community, they will be dispersed and forced to migrate elsewhere. The Romani residents of Sulukule have essentially been unable to work since 1992 when the municipality closed down the music and entertainment venues that had been the lifeblood of the community and a major tourist attraction. With this source of income gone, the Roma of Sulukule have found it increasingly difficult to earn a living. The residents of Sulukule have been offered the opportunity to purchase the new homes that will be built as part of the project. However, the homes are quite expensive and, given the Romani community’s lack of employment and income, this is an empty gesture. The offer of housing in Tasoluk is also well beyond the means of the current residents of Sulukule, making it all the more likely that the majority of them will be forced to live on the streets. On April 4, members of the Helsinki Commission sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Tayip Erdogan, expressing concern about the Sulukule transformation project. The Commissioners urged the Prime Minister to find a solution that would ensure that the residents of Sulukule are treated with dignity and respect, that their culture and contribution to the history of Istanbul are preserved, and that they are given the opportunity to work, provide shelter and education for their families and contribute fully to Turkish society. The letter was authored by Co-Chairmen of the Helsinki Commission Congressman Alcee L. Hastings and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, along with Commissioners Congressmen Joseph R. Pitts and G.K. Butterfield.

  • Crossing Boarders, Keeping Connected: Women, Migration and Development in the OSCE Region

    The hearing will focus on the impact of migration on family and society, the special concerns of migrant women of color, and the economic contributions of women migrants to their home country through remittances. According to the United Nations, women are increasingly migrating on their own as main economic providers and heads of households. While the number of women migrants is on the rise, little is known about the economic and social impact of this migration on their home country.

  • Armenia after the Election

    Since the February 19 presidential election, Armenia has experienced its most serious political crisis in over a decade. The March 1 confrontation between the authorities and supporters of the opposition resulted in at least eight fatalities and the imposition of a state of emergency, causing serious damage to Armenia’s reputation. Although Prime Minister Serzh Sarkissian has been elected President, some opposition leaders refuse to recognize the outcome and government opposition relations remain tense.  The state of emergency has been lifted but restrictions on freedom of assembly continue in effect.  The hearing will focus on the ramifications of these developments for Armenia and the United States, especially the ongoing Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia s qualifications for assistance from the Millennium Challenge Account.

  • Helsinki Commission Delegation Visits Prague and Bratislava

    By Erika B. Schlager, Counsel for International Law Prior to participating in the Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna, Austria, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), the Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, led a Congressional delegation to Prague, the Czech Republic, from February 18-20. In Prague, he was joined by Chairman Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Commissioner Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) and Congressman Michael McNulty (D-NY). Chairman Hastings also traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia, for additional meetings on February 21, where he was joined by Commissioner Hilda L. Solis (D-CA). In the Czech Republic, the delegation met with representatives of the Jewish community and toured the historic Jewish quarter in Prague, which dates back to the Middle Ages. The delegation discussed recent anti-Semitic manifestations, most notably a large demonstration organized last November on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and other planned demonstrations by extremists. Although Czech civil society has strongly countered these demonstrations, local officials have struggled to find the appropriate balance between respect for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and their desire to combat anti-Semitism and manifestations of other forms of intolerance. The delegation also held a round-table discussion with leading civil society and Romani activists. Their discussions touched on past instances of sterilizing Romani women without informed consent, and discrimination against Roma in education, housing and employment. It was noted that victims of wrongful sterilization practices have been advised by government officials to seek redress from the courts, even though most cases will be barred by statutes of limitations. The delegation held official meetings with the President of Senate, Premysl Sobotka, and other members of the Czech Senate; Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout; representatives of the Government Council for Human Rights; and Otakar Motejl, the Public Defender of Rights (also known as the Ombudsman). In these meetings, delegation members expressed concern about the unresolved property claims of Americans who were excluded by the legal framework for property restitution previously adopted by the Czech Republic. They urged Czech officials to protect freedom of speech and assembly, while demonstrating sensitivity for dates or sites of particular importance to the Jewish community. With respect to the situation of the Romani minority, the delegation expressed concern for the victims of past sterilization without informed consent. They urged the Czech Government to take concrete steps to improve the situation of Roma, including through the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. Discussions with Czech officials also touched on bilateral or regional issues, including Kosovo’s declaration of independence and managing relations with Russia. While in Prague, the delegation also met with President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Jeffrey Gedman, toured the broadcasting facility, and held a press conference at the RFE/RL headquarters. In Slovakia, Chairman Hastings and Commissioner Solis met with leading political analysts to hear a broad discussion of political developments and trends, including concerns regarding proposed legislation on non-governmental organizations and on the media. During a round-table discussion with Romani activists, participants discussed the need to translate the government’s program into concrete action, and the particular challenge of translating national policies into change at the local level. The delegation also met with Foreign Minister Jan Kubis, Deputy Prime Minister Dusan Caplovic (who has responsibility for, i.a., human rights issues), and a group of parliamentarians, including representatives of opposition parties. In their meeting with Minister Caplovic, Chairman Hastings urged the Slovak Government to acknowledge the past sterilization without informed consent of Romani women. In other meetings, the delegation also expressed concern about the adoption by the parliament of resolution honoring Andreij Hlinka, who died in 1938 but whose nationalist leadership set the stage for Slovakia’s WWII alliance with Nazi Germany and the deportation of its Jewish citizens.

  • Human Rights, Civil Society, and Democratic Governance in Russia: Current Situation and Prospects for the Future

    This hearing, chaired by Helsinki Commission Chairman Hon. Sam Brownback and Ranking Member the Hon. Benjamin Cardin, focused on the tumoltuous developement of human right in Russia. For the past few years, a series of events in Russia has given cause for concern about the fate of human rights, civil society, and democratic governance in that country. Of particular concern is the recent promulgation of a law establishing greater governmental control over NGOs and an attempt by the Russian secret services to link prominent Russian NGOs with foreign intelligence services. Newsweek International wrote in its February 6, 2006 issue: “The Russian secret service is acting more and more like the old KGB.” At the same time, the Russian Federation accedes this year to the chairmanship of the Group of Eight Industrialized Nations (G-8), and will chair the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers beginning in May 2006.  

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